Intro Music: Around the Way Girl
Joe: Hello and Welcome to Riffs on Riffs, where we explore the collision of original and sampled tracks and the artists who made them. I’m your host, Joe Watson, and I’m here with my co-host, Toby Brazwell.
Joe: Together, we listen to the legendary tracks and the timeless — but sometimes not-so-well-known — songs they sampled from. Toby, what are we listening to today?
Toby: We are listening to Around the Way Girl by the legendary MC, Mr future of the funk that the lady’s love. LL Cool J.
Joe: We have been at this for a while, and it always surprises me how we haven’t focused on some artists in earlier episodes. LL is definitely one of those artists!
Toby: Agreed! Why don’t we hop in the Delorean and see what track was sampled to make this hit?
Play All Night Long
Joe: Toby my man, please tell the people what we are we listening to?
Toby: With pleasure. We are listening to the hit song All Night Long by the Mary Jane Girls. This song was released on Feb 6th, in 1983 off of their eponymously named project. The Mary Jane Girls were an American R&B, soul and funk group that was was created by a Buffalo native responsible for many hits.
Joe: Don’t keep the people and I suspense. If you have the name, give it to me baby!
Toby: Well Played sir. The mastermind behind the Mary Jane Gils is none other than Rick James. The group was named after the nickname for the drug marijuana which was a favorite pastime of Mr. Rick James … among other things. Despite all of that Rick James was an incredible artist.
Joe: Oh you mean this Rick James?
Play Give it to Me Baby
Toby: That was Give It To Me Baby by Rick James of his 1981 album Street Songs. Which also featured this well-known hit:
Play Super Freak
Joe: Wow, that song brings back a ton of memories.
Toby: Is that right? One question… 3 words…. What’s her name?
Joe: Toby- need I remind you that this is family show. If you must know I was actually talking about an earlier Riffs on Riffs episode that featured MC Hammer in which he took this song for his hit Can’t Touch This.
Play Can’t Touch This
Toby: That’s funny- cuz it brings back memories for me to of a certain mc that became president by the name of Carter.
Joe: Jimmy Carter was an mc?
Toby: No, I’m talking Shawn Carter aka MC Jay Z who served as the president of Dej Jam Records back in 2004.
Toby: Yeah, Jay Z’s return from retirement in 2006 was the album Kingdom Come. It contained a song of the same name that was produced by hitmaker Just Blaze. Let’s give that a spin.
Play Kingdom Come
Joe: Anytime that your music has been sampled by two major Hip Hop icons, you know your music had an impact on the musical landscape.
Toby: Indeed. Well speaking of landscape, I believe we have more ground to cover with the Mary Jane Girls.
Joe: Indeed we do. Can you tell us a little bit more about them?
Toby: The Mary Jane girls was comprised of Joanne “Jojo’ Mcduffie and sisters Maxine and Julia Waters. These three ladies sang the background vocals for Rick James in the studio, but on stage James used Cheryl Bailey aka Cheri Wells, Candice “Candi” Ghant and Kim “Maxi” Wuletich.
Joe: In 1981, Rick James released his most successful album, Street Songs, and then proceeded to talk to Motown Records in an effort to get McDuffie a record deal. Due to miscommunication, the label actually signed an all female group featuring McDuffie , Wells, Ghant and Wuletich. I’d like to be mistakenly signed to a record deal please!
Toby: Rick James was the brainchild, wrote all of the original songs and produced all the recordings. The actual vocal recording was done by McDuffie and the Waters sisters. There first self titled album was released on April 13, 1983 on the Gordy Label on Motown Records. It enjoyed some success and peaked at number 56 on the charts.
Joe: Their first single, Candy Man, reached number 23 on the Hot Black Singles charts. Let’s give that a listen:
Play Candy Man
Toby: Listening to the lyrics of this song I definitely think this song should be officially named the Sugar Daddy anthem.
Toby: The Mary Jane girls released their 2nd album, Only Four You, in 1985. The Water sisters were hired to record since the singing ability of the ladies outside of McDuffie was limited. The lead single was a song called In My House, and this proved to be the group’s biggest hit.
Joe: This song reached #3 on the R&B charts and then spent 12 weeks in the top 40 peaking at #7. I loved this jam back in the day. Let’s give it a spin.
Play In My House
Toby: Their 2nd single was a song called Wild Crazy Love which reached #10 on the R&B charts. Let’s take a listen to that
Play Wild Crazy Love
Joe: Despite their success on this album, their 3rd album was shelved for a long time due to a major disagreement that Rick James had with the label. And when I say long, I mean decades. This and other reasons led to the group officially disbanding in 1987.
Toby: Of all the ladies it’s undeniable that JoJo McDuffie was the vocal center piece. After the groups disbandment she continued to pursue a career in music. She eventually sang background for the Diva behind this song:
Joe: That was Anita Baker’s Rapture. Toby I know that Anita is one of your favorites and it’s always great to feature her music on the show. But let’s not forget that McDuffie also sang background for a man that I am certain is featured on the Brazwell Quiet Storm mix tape!
Toby: Now Joe, I can guarantee you that Rick Astley has never mad an appearance on any Brazwell mix tapes.
Joe: I know, but how could I pass up an opportunity to rickroll you? Alright, let’s here the track the McDuffie actually did sing background on, Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up from Barry White.
Play Never Never Gonna
Toby: In addition to her work with other artists, McDuffie still found time to record her own music and released an album an album entitled Slightly Dangerous in 2011. One of the songs was called You and was featured on the popular TV crime drama Criminal Minds. I can’t lie, I realllly like this song because it shows a side of McDuffie that the previous songs didn’t really highlight. Let’s give that a spin.
Joe: Speaking of crime dramas, what do you say we move onto one of the stars of NCIS Los Angeles?
Toby: The magnificent D'Artagnan from The Three Muskateers? Robin to George Clooney’s Batman in perhaps the worst superhero movie ever? Are we talking about Chris O’Donnell?
Joe: How about we discuss the other star of NCIS LA, LL Cool J?
Toby: Great idea, can you tell us a little more about him?
Joe: James Todd Smith was born on Jan 18, 1986 and grew up in Queens, NY. He experienced some pretty traumatic things at an early age. His dad shot his mother and grandfather and a 4 year old James found them. They survived, and LL even reconciled with his dad later in life.
Toby: That’s a terrible story, and I can imagine it took a toll on him. Like many, he found solace in music, and began rapping at the age of 9. His mother and grandfather gifted him some pretty sweet musical gear and by 16 he was producing his own demos and sending them to labels.
Joe: One of those labels was the newly formed collaboration between Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons, Def Jam Records. There was a guy by the name of Adam Horovitz that was sifting through demos for Def Jam.
Toby: You may know Adam better by his stage name, Ad Rock, one of the three members of another upcoming Def Jam band, the Beastie Boys.
Joe: One of the demos that Ad Rock heard was an early version of LL’s song I Need a Beat. Adam helped craft the beat and it became the first single for LL Cool J. Let’s have a listen.
Play I Need a Beat
Toby: The success of this single led to LL being signed with Def Jam and the release of his first album, Radio, in 1985. The album reached #6 on the Hip Hop charts and #46 on the Billboard 200, making LL Cool J one of the first rappers to achieve mainstream commercial success.
Joe: The lead single off the album was the song I Can’t Live Without My Radio — LL’s ode to the boomboxes that were an instrumental part of the scene in the 80’s. Let’s have a listen.
Play I Can’t Live
Toby: The cover of the Radio album features one of the iconic boomboxes of that era, the JVC RC-M90. That and the Sharp GF-777 were two of the most sought after boomboxes of the time, not only for their rich feature set and quality of sound, but because they were loud enough drown out other ghetto blasters.
Joe: I tried to find out what these fine pieces of machinery cost when they first came out, but I couldn’t find original pricing anywhere. But the Sharp costs about $1,000 on eBay now, and I’ve seen pricing on the JVC upwards of $3,000. I’m pretty sure they didn’t cost anywhere near that back in the day!
Toby: I Can’t Live Without My Radio also landed the 17 year old LL a spot in the 1985 movie Krush Groove, which loosely chronicles the early formation of Def Jam and introduces Blair Underwood in his first feature film role.
Joe: The third single from Radio was Rock the Bells, which ironically didn’t actually feature any bells on the album version. The original 12” single is the only version which has bells, let’s hear that.
Play Rock the Bells
Toby: That original version of Rock the Bells samples an early NY hip hop group named the Crash Crew and their 1982 song Breaking Bells. Let’s hear that.
Play Breaking Bells
Toby: The Breaking Bells track samples the Bob James cover of the Paul Simon song Take Me to the Mardis Gras, which we discussed in a previous episode. And that’s where some internal conflict started to arise regarding production of the LL song.
Joe: Def Jam president Russell Simmons and Joseph Simmons, better known as Reverend Run from Run DMC, are brothers. Run DMC was working on the song Peter Piper at the time, which also samples the Take Me to the Mardis Gras track. They weren’t too happy with the similar sound from their label mate, so they convinced LL to record a new version.
Toby: Rick Rubin definitely put his stamp on this version, sampling the 1983 AC/DC song Flick of the Switch. It’s never a bad time to hear some Angus Young, so let’s hear his guitar work on that song.
Play Flick of the Switch
Joe: Rick grabbed one downstroke of the power chord and tuned it up, then took the drums from the Washington DC funk band Trouble Funk and their 1983 album In Times of Trouble. Let’s hear the song Saturday Night Live Part 2.
Play Saturday Night
Toby: Now let’s hear how those elements come together for the album version of Rock the Bells.
Play Rock the Bells 2
Joe: Trouble Funk is another band that has been heavily sampled in hip hop, especially the song Pump Me Up, which was used for Public Enemy’s Fight the Power and Kurtis Blow’s If I Ruled the World, among others.
Toby: In 1987, LL released his second album, Bigger and Deffer. It spent 11 weeks at #1 on Top R&B/Hip Hop charts, and reached #3 on the Billboard 200.
Joe: It also contained one of rap’s first commercially successful ballads, I Need Love, which hit #14 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Hip Hop charts. Let’s give that a spin.
Play I Need Love
Toby: In 1989, LL released another commercially successful album, Walking With a Panther. This was another #1 hit on the Hip Hop charts, and reached #6 on the Billboard 200. It also received some backlash from the hip hop community, as many perceived LL as selling out and going to pop and mainstream.
Joe: We can’t pass this album up without playing one of the hits, Going Back to Cali. The song was inspired by Rick Rubin’s own personal ambivalence about moving from NYC to LA.
Play Going Back to Cali
Toby: LL responded to the backlash from Walking With a Panther by hitting back hard with his 1990 album Mama Said Knock You Out. I’d say it worked, as the album went double platinum and the title track won him a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. Let’s listen to Mama Said Knock You Out.
Play Mama Said
Joe: That track samples the song from Sly and the Family Stone, Trip to Your Heart, from their 1967 album A Whole New Thing. Let’s hear that.
Play Trip to Your Heart
Toby: The first single from Mama Said Knock You Out was another ode to audio gear, only this time we’ve moved on from boomboxes and are singing the praises of car audio. Let’s hear The Boomin System.
Play Boomin System
Joe: Like so many other songs, this samples James Brown’s Funky Drummer, but also another James Brown track, The Payback. Let’s hear that original song from 1973.
Play The Payback
Toby: And if that sounds familiar for all you Funky Diva lovers, it’s probably because you recognize it from En Vogue’s 1992 hit My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It). Let’s hear that.
Play My Lovin
Joe: Please tell me we can do an En Vogue episode some day. But for now, we get to our second featured track, Around the Way Girl. Let’s take a listen first to the original vocal line from the Mary Jane Girl’s All Night Long
Play All Night Around
Toby: Now let’s hear how LL used that for Around the Way Girl.
Play Around All Night
Joe: While the Mary Jane Girls sample may be the most recognizable, it’s not the only sample used on this track. The drums are taken from a 1973 song from The Honey Drippers, and one with a title that seems particularly relevant today. Let’s listen to Impeach the President.
Toby: You remember a guy named Keni Burke? He had a long career as a singer and multi instrumentalist, and had a hand in creating of one of the biggest feel good songs ever made. He was a member of the family soul group Five Stairsteps, and their hit from 1970 is bound to put a smile on your face. Let’s hear Ooh Child.
Play Ooh Child
Joe: I do remember Keni, and I see where you are going with this. As we’ve discussed previously, the early days of sampling was like the wild west — you could get away with taking whatever cool snippets you wanted for your own creations. And sometimes that created a domino effect. While Around the Way Girl clearly samples All Night Long, not many people are aware that the Mary Jane Girls song interpolates a song from Keni Burke. In 1982, he released the track Risin’ to the Top, and it reached #63 on the charts. Let’s give it a spin.
Play Risin to the Top
Toby: So you can clearly hear how the Mary Jane Girls used Risin to the Top for their song All Night Long. What becomes interesting as how future artists like Mary J Blige would sample the Mary Jane Girls track for their own material. It’s like creating a second generation of samples.
Joe: What do you say we jump ahead to 1995 and LL’s sixth album, Mr. Smith. The first single was the collaboration with Boyz II Men, Hey Lover. It hit #3 on the Hot 100 and won LL another Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance. Let’s hear that.
Play Hey Lover
Toby: You mentioned the wild west of samples. This is an excellent example. Hey Lover samples one of the under the radar songs from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, The Lady In My Life. Let’s give that a listen.
Play Lady in Life
Joe: Man, can you imagine how much you would have to pay to sample a Micheal Jackson track now? I doubt you could ever afford it!
Toby: LL Cool J is not only one of the founding fathers of hip hop, but has also continued to build a career as an actor and business mogul. So in addition to continuing to create platinum albums, he’s balancing the aforementioned role on NCIS: Los Angeles and hosting the show Lip Sync Battle.
Joe: He’s also the first hip hop artist to receive a Kennedy Center Honor. But I have to say, one of my all time favorite LL roles is in the 2006 movie Last Holiday that stars Queen Latifah. I’m a sucker for the feel good flicks, and that’s a good one!
Toby: I think it’s time to dive into our bonus material. There have been a couple of songs that we have featured on this show that didn’t chart well or at all initially only to be repurposed in a sample and then truly appreciated. I feel like All Night Long falls into this category, and I thought it would be cool to list a couple of our favorite songs that have also sampled the Mary Jane girls hit,
Joe: I’m totally up for it partner. Let’s start with Jennifer Lopez and I’m Real off of her 2001 album J Lo
Play I’m Real
Toby: Then we move to Funk Dr Spot aka Redman on his debut album Whut the Album with a song called Tonight’s Da Night
Play Tonight’s Da Night
Joe: From hip hop to hip hop soul — we can’t forget to mention the Mary J Blige song Mary Jane off of her My Life album
Play My Life
Toby: Last but not least, this next song features one of my favorite female voices. This is Groove Theory featuring the vocal talents of Amel Larieux and the single off of their debut album entitled Tell Me
Play Tell Me
Joe: Well that about wraps up another fun episode of Riffs on Riffs, but before we say good bye, Toby can you tell the good people what we discussed today.
Toby: We discussed the hit song All Night Long by the Mary Jane girls and then dove into the history of LL Cool Jay and his hit song Around the Way Girl that sample it. For our bonus material we highlighted songs by Jennifer Lopez , Mary J Blige, Redman and Grove Theory and all of their songs that sampled our feature song. With that all being said, why do we have on deck for our next ep?
Joe: For our next episode, I think I might need some TLC. Honestly, I’ve been feeling a little scrubby lately.
Toby: That ain’t good man, we might need to spend some time talking about the shape of you.
Joe: Thanks buddy, I appreciate you having my back! Until then thanks again for listening, and we’ll catch you next time for Riffs on Riffs.